Proposed: an à la carte Internet

New proposal called 'ChoiceNet' would bring market discipline, enabling end-users to 'vote with their wallets' on end-to-end connections and services. Would it work?

More choice on the Internet? A dangerous radical idea, of course. But that's what a team of researchers, in a project underwritten by the National Science Foundation, is proposing. The new approach urges more of an "à la carte" approach to selecting network services. 

Keyboard Photo by Joe McKendrick

A report out of North Carolina State University (surfaced by Engadget's Alexis Santos), says the new model, dubbed "ChoiceNet," would "provide the building blocks to create different types of services and to create alternative services of the same type." End-users would be able to select the network or service that provides the best performance for their applications.

The researchers -- led by Tilman Wolf of the University of Massachusetts and Rudra Dutta and George Rouskas of NCSU -- note that with the current Internet structure, "competition exists only at the application layer, if at all."

End-users shouldn't be “stuck when the service they receive is not consistent with their expectations," the team writes in their abstract. "Rather, they must be able to choose a different service provider, to better meet their expectations."  The end result would be better Internet access across the board, since "economic rewards are explicitly represented in the architecture -- network service providers are incentivized to create innovative offerings."

They explain how ChoiceNet would ideally work:

"A user may be offered different connection services for the purpose of watching streaming video. These connections may differ in their technical implementation (e.g., quality-of-service, use of caching, etc.). The user selects a service (i.e., a complete package of end-to-end connection and related services) and pays for its use. Depending on the user’s satisfaction with the video experience, they continue to use the chosen service or switch to another (i.e., vote with their wallet)."

The model sounds similar to the unbundling of long-distance phone services that took place a couple of decades ago for landlines. End-users maintain their on-site local ISP service, as they do with local phone companies, and select who they use to complete a call. It makes sense to encourage competition to improve access and connectivity. The question is, will this make things more complicated? Will end-users buy into having to think about network selection, on the fly, every time they want to access an online service?

(Photo by Joe McKendrick.)